Spacial Awareness Bach?

Posted: 6/20/2006 11:26:08 AM

From: UK

Joined: 5/16/2006

Greetings all.

Just wondering - anyone else tried Bach on the Theremin?

I've only just got my Etherwave (normal - couldn't afford a pro...donations welcome!) and have begun to learn proper technique (fingerings, hand positions etc.) based on whatever I can read, watch and listen to. One thing my teachers always said to me was 'Bach is one of the most important things to practise', and they were right.

Now, I'm not talking about the Minuet in G (that has been mentioned before) - I'm talking about 'Cello Sonatas, Violin works etc. I've managed to just about (v. slowly) eek out the prelude to Sonata 2 (which is one of the sonata's I know almost completely by heart), as well as some of the more well known movements of the others, and the results so far have been very enjoyable.

Well, where Wendy Carlos lead us, I will follow! (I do think that she and Raymond Scott were very under-appreciated).

Have fun.

Posted: 6/20/2006 12:20:01 PM
Charlie D

From: England

Joined: 2/28/2005

The problem with the cello sonatas is that the range doesn't really suit the theremin very well in my opinion. Yes, one can stumble through the motifs and arpeggios, but the tone of in the bass registers that so suit the cello are not quite so admirable on the theremin.

The Unaccompanied Suites are bad simply because they're unaccompanied (they'll probably end up murky and indecipherable), and lots of the other violin and cello stuff is simply too fast. Even the minuet in G, and the oft-quoted Partitura Air on the G-String are pieces that I feel only work to a limited extent. They're just not really that theremin-y.

Finally, it's Bach's emphasis on counterpoint that really seals the deal for me when it comes to Bach and the theremin. Bach is not famous for his hummable melodies, if we're being brutally honest (Can you hum the Brandenburg Concerti? I don't think so. They're too complicated and ornate musically to be crushed into one melodic line). His emphasis is with harmony and perfectly executed lines coming together to elicit harmony, not on the emotive and beautiful solo lines that the theremin does so well (or does *alone*).

That's the deal-breaker for me.
Posted: 6/20/2006 9:56:39 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005


For Bach played on various instruments, including Theremin, check out:

Posted: 6/21/2006 7:48:02 AM

From: Kingston, NY

Joined: 2/13/2005

I've enjoyed playing Bach quite a lot on the theremin and his music was a big part of the marathon breaking in period when EWPro first arrived. Funny, I often find both tunes like Sheep May Safely as well as full multipart pieces from the organ and orchestral/vocal rep "humming around" in my head. It's a great feeling to keep finding new depths in his well formed and passionate music by studying it on any instrument.

Speaking of which, Thank you KK for posting that Ricercare recording, and sharing all the work that obviously went into it... wow! It's a wonderful interpretation (just realized "transcription" is not the right word really) of that piece. Bach's rich and forward looking harmonic "scrunches" really pull the tension in this rendition and playing it on theremins allows sustaining that tempo and still maintaining the musical thoughts and proportions of the piece. Much appreciated and enjoyed.

Hey did you all hear about Wendy's Switch On Bach being selected into the perminant Library of Congress National Recording Registry
as one of the important landmark recordings of our modern times? Bach sure holds up well, gotta hand it to him. We should be doing so well when we're two hundred and... umm... ah... really old.
Posted: 6/21/2006 8:47:48 AM

From: Australia

Joined: 4/16/2006

Kevin's version of the Bach Ricercare is extraordinary and probably the most ambitious thing I've ever heard anyone undertake on the theremin, which seems to me ideally suited to play Bach's monophonic lines, despite the fact that it's unbelievably difficult; like Bach is on most other instruments, because of the precision and restraint which have to underly all that emotion.

I should probably have split that into more than one sentence.
Posted: 6/21/2006 8:58:55 AM

From: Jax, FL

Joined: 2/14/2005

As they said on M*A*S*H*....

Ahhhh, Bach!
Posted: 6/21/2006 10:40:08 AM
Charlie D

From: England

Joined: 2/28/2005

Kevin - that recording is awesome! It must have taken you hours to assemble it, and I really congratulate you. It was most certainly worth the effort.

I suppose that Bach is of excellent use when it comes to practicing the underlying techniques behind the theremin, but I still stand by my belief that lines with a single dominant, romantic melody are the best suited for general performance.

Players such as Peter, Kevin and Anne have shown all too clearly however that the most ethereal and harmonious (for the most part!) effects can be achieved by multitracking slow counterpoint. Since Bach is the master of counterpoint, it seems only too right that the thereminist turn to him for repertoire!

Incidentally Kevin, when did you make that recording?

P.S My only complaint was that you didn't put the ornaments on the last figure of the subject - I love this piece and it sort of drove me mad expecting various ornaments that never came!
Posted: 6/28/2006 4:47:49 PM

From: UK

Joined: 5/16/2006

Very nice Kevin! I especially like the Corelli 'Christmas' concerto grosso on Aries synthesizer.

I agree that examples such as the slow movement of the Bach A Minor violin concerto would be very challenging on the theremin, and a lot of the arpeggiation is definitely 'not easy'. Then again, I have been known to be masochistic when comes to my string playing...

Many thanks for all of your thoughts :-D

Have fun.

Posted: 6/28/2006 10:20:35 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Thank you everyone for for your kind words about the Bach six-voice Ricercare.

The Musical Offering is a musical puzzle -- Bach didn't specify the instrumentation and didn't even write out all the parts -- leaving it up to scholars and musicologists to fill in the blanks.

Technically speaking, every performance of the "Musical Offering" is a realization.

The story goes that Frederick the Great asked Bach to improvise on a theme that Frederick himself had written. At the King's request, Bach actually improvised a Ricercare in 3 parts on the spot. Frederick asked if it was possible to compose a Ricercare in six parts that would be playable by a keyboard soloist. Bach's answer was the six-voice Ricercare that is, indeed, playable by a keyboard soloist.

When realized as a harpsichord work one would insert the conventional trills and other ornaments in keeping with Baroque Harpsichord style.

When approaching the work on the Theremin, I turned to an old LP recording done by the Munich Instrumental Ensemble wherein they realized the Ricercare with a string ensemble. This is the version I had in mind when I decided to attempt a Theremin realization of the work. Thus, the keyboard ornamentation is not present in the string or the Theremin realizations.

A point that I find personally delightful is that, despite the Theremin's identity as a modern instrument, the finished Theremin performance of the Bach Ricercare is a realization, not a transcription!

Indeed, the Ricercare sounds like slow counterpoint despite page after page of eight note passages in the latter half of the work. Late Bach works tend to be understated -- often more difficult than the earlier "flashier" works.

I would encourage anyone to pursue anything they want on the Theremin. If you can hear it played on the Theremin in your head, it just might be possible.

Once in composition class a fellow student asked Gerald Kemner, "Is it ok to write a composition that you yourself couldn't perform?" And Dr. Kemner answered, "Why hand someone your limitations?"

Thus, you may ask, "Hey, is it possible to play (whatever) on the Theremin?" And the answer would be either, "Yep, sounds doable." or "well... I can't imagine me playing that however you may be the one to pull it off."

Go for it!

-- Kevin
Posted: 6/29/2006 2:25:26 AM

From: UK

Joined: 5/16/2006

Encouraging words, Kevin! And yes, it is a realisation - he improvised a 3 part version? I'm still in awe after I met someone who werote an article on 'Improvisin Bach' - my GOD he was good!

However, my practise on Bach may have to take a back seat if a friend of mine keeps pressing me to 'have a go' at doing various things with them! - speaking of which, does anyone know where I can get a copy of the sheet music for the Martinu 'Fantasie' for theremin, oboe, piano and 4tet?

Out of interest, how long did it take for people here to get up to 'concert level'? IE - good enough, and stable enough to be able to perform in a concert? The way that I'm currently going, I expect to be concert level in about a years time - practise time permitting. Is that too soon?

Many thanks,


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